“A good coach doesn’t let ego and self worth get tied to outcome”
Are you bringing out the best in the people you work with? What leadership skills do you hold? Do you display positive emotions and bring out positive emotions in others? The Intentional Change Theory by Boyatzis helps us look at our leadership skills and how we influence others. It is a model of sustained, desired change for humans for leaders to influence others to make positive changes.
According to this theory, change occurs when people are in the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA). This is a state where you activate Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) resulting in the body rebuilding itself, and your immune system being engaged to help health. With PEA, you feel positive and hopeful; and think about the future, and dreams. You are more open to ideas and emotions, and are able to explore new possibilities and learning. PEA is also related to having positive relationships characterized by openness and empathy.
Sometimes with modern day life, and the stress of being a leader, we trigger the opposite state which is the Negative Emotional Attractor. In this state, we activate the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and get into fight or flight mode. Your body tries to prepare to defend itself which can also result in effecting cognitions, perceptions and emotions. We feel negative, and fearful. We think about the past or focus on present expectations of others and problems. We are more likely to focus on weaknesses, and feel obligated to do things because you ‘should’ or because others ‘expect’ you to. In this state, our relationships are usually inharmonious.
In order to have positive changes, and grow as individuals and performers, we need to get into the Positive Emotional Attractor state. Study by Khawaja (2011) has shown that a patient’s experience of shared PEA (i.e. shared vision and positive mood) is likely to result in adherence to treatment in Type II diabetics patients. In other words, when your Doctor is positive and hopeful, you are more likely to comply with recommendations which in turn would make you healthier. Other study in IT showed that PEA predicts effectiveness (In.Boyatzis, 2010).
Nevertheless, sometimes we need stress. It helps us survive and also takes us out of our comfort zone. We can use stress to grow as individuals by continually moving out of comfort zone and into learning. . Therefore, the positive aspect of NEA is that we learn to grow because NEA challenges us. But most of the time, we are exposed to too much stress. The following ways can help with activating PEA more than NEA.
Mindfulness and Compassion (Boyatzis & Yeganeh, 2013).
You can help a person get into the PEA by promoting hope, compassion, mindfulness or playfulness. Mindfulness is about being in the moment. Are you able to tune into yourself, others and the environment? Do you focus on problems or do you tune into excellence? To be mindful, you could pause and try to tune it. Appreciate your environment, your athletes, and try to be in the moment. As I usually describe it, ‘being in the moment’ is when you were a kid, and you were playing for hours on end, and time flies by because you are having fun. How can you promote this feeling when leading others?
Shared Vision (Boyatzis, 2010)
Another way to get people into PEA is by having a shared vision. Having an image of our desired future and working towards goals with passion and aspiration can help us get into PEA. In teams, sustained desired change can be motivated by bringing people into the PEA in creating a shared vision, and then reminding them about the purpose. Shared vision is a predictor of championing behaviour and as leaders, coaches, sport psychologists, it is part of our responsibility to help players performance at their best. We can do this by working together towards a common purpose.
Social Identity of Groups (Boyatzis, 2010)
Shared identity for a group, is the sense of belonging and having an attachment to that group. It is promoting the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘vision’ of the group to create a shared identity. By recalling proud team moments, and discussing values and purpose; the the players can become more aware of the shared PEA and NEA and how it helps or hinders the team. For example. The PEA “pulls teams toward their shared vision or purpose, encouraging them to focus on future possibilities and experience hope as a group” (Boyatzis, Smith & Blaize, 2006). This in return helps the group feel calm or motivated. This reduces stress, helps team members be more open to learning, and increases the sustainability of the team (Haslam & Reicher, 2006 In. Boyatzis, 2010). PEA opens the team up to learning and adapting to change, where as the NEA inhibits or blocks openness or change. That is why as a group leader, it is important to not only be in PEA yourself, but to find ways to get your players and team functioning and feeling at PEA.
Health and becoming healthy, to most people, would be mainly eating better and exercising. And usually for the most part, the people I know see it as cutting calories and losing weight. To me, there are four aspects of health: physical, social, emotional and mental and I believe all are linked.
When January rolls around, it's the kick start to the year and people quickly address the physical side. Facebook statuses and tweets are about going to the gym, being starving and eating no more chocolate. The gyms are chaos, and you are lucky if you get yourself on a treadmill. The other day, I heard a woman say, "I can't wait until February so the new year resolution people stop coming!" Is she right? How many of us kick start the year with a health kick? And how many of us end the year with a blow out?
To me, it's not about dieting. It's not about starving yourself for part of the year. It's not about letting your weight continually yo yo. It's about having a healthy lifestyle that's just part of your day to day. It's not about restricting one type of food: chocolate, carbs, fats. Sometimes people even restrict food: baby food diet, water diet, detox diet. Our bodies need a balanced diet but not a diet diet. We must fuel our bodies enough to function. Our bodies are just like a car. If we don't put petrol in, how can you expect the car to go anywhere?
Nevertheless, it does make me happy that people have a fitness focus for the start of the year. And I hope that people maintain it. Not the obsessing over calories or the things they can't have, but to enjoy fitness, and have it as part of their daily living.
As part of your daily living, exercise and eating healthy adds to other aspects of health. It can help you have routine. It can help you have a focus. It helps promote self esteem. How good does it feel when you have had a stretch of eating well and working out? However, when it becomes obsessive, we start to stress our bodies out. We start to isolate the one aspect of health and forget about other ones eg socializing, interacting with others, being happy. And we rely on 'getting thin' to be happy. Does having a slim waist line change the person you are? Does it make you a better person? Yes it shows you are a person who has stuck to routine, challenged yourself and had a focus. However, when our self esteem relies on what weight we are, then I believe this to be a problem. We need to first and foremost, look at ourselves and our character. That we will always have. Underneath the skin, and muscle. Are we good people? Are we caring? Are we kind? Are we good friends?
So when we choose exercise for losing a few pounds, we can often feel bad when this doesn't happen, when we put weight back on or when we never reach the weight we want to. This hurts our self esteem. Especially if we have unrealistic expectations.
By making exercise and healthy eating about being healthy and a daily routine, we allow it to happen naturally. We can lose the obsession with numbers of calories and pound, and merely live a healthy lifestyle in moderation.
Some people do need to have a little more structure. A plan to when they are working out, perhaps keeping a food diary, or use a fitness app. There are many resources out there to help you plan your work outs, help you understand what you should be eating but the way we explain to our kids - it's all about energy balance. We want to balance out what we put in, and the activities that we do.
Fitness and exercise should be for life. A part of your everyday. Just something you do. For health. Not just for shedding pounds. For feeling good. For releasing good hormones. For socialising. For being happy. For knowing that if we put good things in your body, we can feel good.
So here is to healthy choices and living a healthy life rather than dieting and starving ourselves.
Abraham Lincoln once described an a optimist as someone who “finds opportunity in every difficulty” whilst a pessimist to be someone who ‘finds difficulty in every opportunity”.
Another way to look at optimism is in terms of explanatory style. Explanatory style examines the way an individual explains their experiences, successes and failures (Scheier & Carver, 1985 In. Martin-Krumm et al, 2003). Looking at how people explain certain events, or the reason behind the athletes success or failure, we can see if they are optimistic or not. We can also use people’s explanatory style to predict biases, and future outcomes because of their expectations of success or failures (Seligman, 1991).
What is an Optimistic Explanatory Style? (Peterson, 2000)
●Positive events: internal (within persons control) stable (this reason will always be the there) and global (effects everything) causes e.g. we won the game because I am talented.
●Negative event: external (outwith person’s control), unstable (the reason is only temporary) and specific (only effects that certain situation) factors e.g. We lost the game because the other team scored a lucky goal.
So why is it good for athletes to be optimistic?
The main advantages of having an optimistic explanatory style is that you are more likely to be persistent and committed during the action phase of working towards a goal and are more likely to be able to tolerate uncontrollable suffereing (Espahbodi, Dugar & Tehranian, 1991). When someone has an optimistic explanatory style, the belief that one will have a successful performance is within their control, and the reason is stable e.g. I am a good player. Whilst they view unsuccessful performances as temporary setbacks, and the cause to be something out with their control e.g. Bad weather. Therefore, their self esteem is not effected because they believe that they are in control of the good and not of the negative.
By believing that you are had a good performance because you are talented (internal, stable, global) and not because you play in a good team, or you were lucky (external, temporary) will allow you to believe you are capable of future positive performances. Performers who have an optimistic explanatory style are more likely to believe they will succeed in the future.
There have been various studies that show the benefits of being optimistic such as:
●Better performance and less variability (football; Gordan & Kane, 2001);
Research in Seligman’s book (2006) shows that people who have a pessimistic explanatory style are:
● More susceptible to depression when things go wrong
Therefore, to sustain or promote positive self esteem, we could try to make athletes more optimistic. In 2010, I completed a study “the effectiveness of a positive psychology intervention on optimism levels of female soccer players” where I carried out 8 sessions of positive psychology sessions with 15 semi professional female soccer players in the ’Hampton Roads Piranhas’ from Virginia Beach, Virginia.
What is Positive Psychology?
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) reported that positive psychology, “has many distinguished ancestors, and we make no claim of originality” (p. 13). It is the scientific study of optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions which promotes positive aspects of life such as happiness, well-being, satisfaction, hope and optimism (Joseph & Linley, 2007). I created an intervention to use with the footballers based on this theory using both Seligman’s book “Learned Optimism” (2006) and “Group Psychotherapy Psychology Manual” (PPT; Park & Seligman, 2007). The intervention was devised to increase awareness of explanatory style; and to encourage player’s to look at positive aspects of self and their strengths.
The results of the study showed that scores of optimistic explanatory style increased from pre-test to post-test and there was significant difference on internality and globality but not stability (two out of the three indicators of optimistic explanatory style). For example, the explanation of ability being the cause of a positive event almost doubled on post-test whilst the number of negative events attributed to ability decreased by 50%. Additionally, the number of unstable references to performance decreased.
The players evaluated the program and indicated that afterwards, they had more awareness of explanatory styles; a positive effect on player’s thought processes e.g. made me think more positively; and think differently about discouraging situations; and were more aware of effect football has on them e.g. ‘I learned that soccer influences my every day life and attitude”.
In conclusion, by increasing and building optimism, we are less likely to have our self esteem hurt when we are faced with negative events, and our self esteem will continue to grow when we are faced with positive events. We can do this by using different activities geared towards promoting understanding about explanatory style as well as building g on strengths and positive aspects of character. Feel free to contact me about any of the activities used within the positive psychology intervention.
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Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.